While Andrew Smith crafted this piece “for electoral politics in the American left,” I believe it serves established and peripheral electoral politics from a myriad of perspectives. Before I get pinned as not “radical” enough, note that we report on many groups looking for the best answers available from wherever on the political spectrum they arise, such as auditing the Fed or state banking, neither particularly “left” ideas. Smith’s message should reach neutral and even “conservative” audiences as well. ~ Rosalinda Sanquiche, Managing Editor
How the Left and Occupy Wall Street Can Better Coordinate and Cooperate to Achieve Revolutionary Demands
By Andrew Smith, Occupy Wall Street , Facilitation, Outreach, Direct Action
Much has been written about the issues of combining the efforts of radical direct action organizations with those working with and for electoral politics in the American left. Both sides of this issue often react to these relationships rather negatively. On the direct action side fears of cooptation and loss of radical energy are very real concerns. On the side of the institutional left judgments on organizational structure, bad press, and impossible utopian vision should be taken very seriously
For the first time in many years a national movement exists in America. This movement is expansive in its diverse vision and manifestations nationwide. There are many different pros and cons to this massive decentralized structure.
This memo seeks to provide to larger organizations, institutional left organizations and political parties advice on how to better coordinate and cooperate with Occupy Wall Street.
Coordination is a minimum requirement. Coordination means the efficient sharing of information. This is no small task. Structures like the All-City General Assembly are designed to bring New York Left to the table and share their initiatives and campaigns. This gives all our organizations a better vision of the future. Better coordination with the Democratic Party is an important personal goal of mine in the future.
Cooperation this is a maximum vision. OWS will not be cooperating with everyone on the left. The large group that I work with, which does not represent all of OWS, has chosen not to work with any political parties and I firmly stand behind this commitment. We cooperate with many players within the institutional left such as unions and community based organizations. These organization cooperate with the democratic party and serve as valuable go betweens, but this is the extent of the cooperation
The distinction between coordination and cooperation is defined by the principles of OWS. We are not all trying to go left, but we are not all trying to decentralize and democratize. This point uncovers some of the principle that, in my opinion, OWS should not cross. One example of these principles is direct democracy. We aim to be a direct democratic movement, demonstrated by our commitment to the general assembly and consensus driven decision making models. This uncovers our fear of cooperation with the representative democratic system. We believe our system better empowers individuals to fight for change.
A great technique when considering if allying with OWS is in the interests of your organization and OWS is to use the three R’s.
Resistance: Resistance is a disruptive action. Resistance actions are marches, sit ins and most high risk direct actions. OWS does this very well. The problem with resistance actions is that they do not hold power, are usually reactive, and usually don’t present alternatives.
Reconstruction: This means providing a new system to replace a corrupt one. Examples of this are Occupy Homes. Occupy homes takes direct action and keeps families in their homes or opens up foreclosed properties and puts families in. This is a clear alternative outside of the bank run housing system that provides both an alternative and is in clear resistance to the 1%. Food coops are reconstructive actions as well. The problem with reconstructive actions is that they take a great deal of time an energy to preserve and they are often not sustainable because they will always come under attack from unregulated capitalism.
Reform: This is can be a dirty word for radicals, but I think that most that react negatively to it are actually just not secure in their own principles. I strongly believe in revolutionary reform. The success of a revolutionary reform is usually measured by its democratizing/decentralizing qualities. An example of this is citizen review boards of the NYPD vs. federal review boards. Citizen review boards clearly puts power back in the hands of citizens, federal review boards, although tempting in their power, actually strengthens the hierarchy that already oppresses the people. Revolutionary reforms put the left on a path towards a maximum vision.
The principles of Coordination/Cooperation and Resistance, Reconstruction and Reform lead us all to the left together.
I want radical change in my lifetime. The list of truly radical reforms that fit very well with the current trajectory of OWS is pretty short, it goes as follows:
A moratorium on all home foreclosures and truly making housing and land access a human right
Canceling all student debt and making college education a human right
The Robinhood Tax: A tax on all financial transactions not between two humans. It would generate billions the moment it was instated. The distribution of this money defines its revolutionary potential. It would be far more radical to allow states to distribute the money instead of the federal government.
The Constitutional Convention: “this one is the most revolutionary” 2/3rds of the states vote to amend some or all of the constitution. This is especially important because it makes it possible to amend Citizens United.
These types of radical change will take all the lefts collective efforts. They will force us all to work in radically new ways. We will all have to put away our egos, cooperating when can and coordinating when we feel our principles do not align.
I would like to begin a discussion on which of the above four demands is the most attainable and strategically intelligent. The presidential election is coming and if we are not all pressuring Obama to move radically to the left we are not doing our job.